The best lagers are crisp and refreshing in a way that no other beer can match, read on for our take on some classic suds and offbeat brews
When we hear the word beer, the first thing that pops into most of our minds is a fresh pint of lager. Drinking one, it’s easy to see why, as the best lagers offer a classic balance of flavour, crispness and smooth drinkability that IPAs, stouts and sours can’t quite muster. Being the most popular style of beer in the UK, there are plenty of tasty, well-known lagers readily available on supermarket shelves. However, there are more interesting varieties of lager out there than you might give the style credit for, and that’s what our list aims to showcase.
To learn a little bit more about how lager is produced, and its various styles such as pilsners, helles and IPLs, check out our handy buying guide below. Skipping past that, you’ll find our full round-up, with mini-reviews of our favourite lagers, including classic options, mixed cases, crafty brews, as well as some equally tasty and refreshing low- and no-alcohol varieties.
Best lager: At a glance
- Best traditional pilsner: Pilsner Urquell | £7.25 (6pk)
- Best German helles lager: Augustiner Helles | £40 (12pk)
- Best dry lager: Asahi | £26 (24pk)
- Best dark lager: Budwesier Budvar Tmavy Lezak Dark Lager | £41 (20pk)
- Best lager for hot, sunny days: Peroni Stile Capri | £26 (24pk)
How to choose the best lager for you
How is lager produced?
Originating in Northern Europe, lagers are a type of beer brewed using bottom fermenting yeasts. Able to operate at cooler temperatures, bottom fermenting yeasts work more slowly and less vigorously than yeasts used to produce other beers, and are named for how they tend to sink to the bottom of the fermentation vessel once finished. Once brewed, lagers tend to be matured in cold storage.
How are lagers different from ales?
As noted above, lagers are bottom-fermented at relatively low temperatures. Ales on the other hand, use top-fermenting yeasts and are brewed at higher temperatures. This higher temperature fermentation is what causes ales to develop compounds which give them their fruitier flavours, with notes of peach, banana and sweet-citrus being common. Lagers, lacking these compounds, allow their hoppier, maltier flavours to shine through.
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What are the different styles of lager?
Visit two towns a few miles apart and chances are they’ll both have their own specific regional slang, cuisine and brewing styles. So, while it may be impossible to catalogue and categorise every existing style of lager, we can identify some of the key varieties you’re likely to come across:
Pilsner: Originating in Czechia, and popular across central Europe, pilsners are lightly straw coloured lagers, tending to come in at around 4 to 5%. Pilsners, on the whole, are a tad hoppier and more aromatic than your typical lager, and are characterised by a mild, pleasant bitterness.
Helles: A traditional German style of lager, helles beers have a clear, pale colouring, ABVs of around 4.5 to 6% and milder, sweeter flavour profiles than pilsners, with a distinctive maltiness helping differentiate them further. While helles have long been overshadowed by pilsners, the style has recently seen a notable uptick in the UK.
Vienna Lager: Also known as amber or Oktoberfest lagers, this style of beer originated in Austria, and is defined by its clear, reddish-brown appearance; mild hop profile and low bitterness; and malt-forward flavour. While not the most popular or well-known style, there are a few mainstream examples of this amber-hued drink, with Boston’s Sam Adams lager being a standout.
American Lager: A pale, thin-bodied style, American lagers have a much milder hop profile when compared to European lagers. Not subject to the strict brewing regulations in place in many European countries, American lagers can also incorporate adjuncts like rice or corn. Some of the best known examples of the style include the likes of Bud, Coors and Miller.
Dark Lager: While pale lagers currently reign supreme, dark lagers have been around a lot longer than their straw-coloured counterparts. Darkly coloured, high in ABV and often made using roasted ingredients, this style produces beers with notes of chocolate, roasted malt, spice and lightly burnt grains. There are a wide range of sub-styles which fall under this umbrella term, including Dunkels, Schwarzbiers, Bocks, Doppelbocks and Eisbocks.
India Pale Lager: A recently concocted hybrid style, the India Pale Lager marries the bready malt flavours of your standard lager with the hoppy haze of an American IPA, producing an easy-drinking beer which maintains plenty of bite and character.
How do we test lagers?
Before testing any of the tasty lagers from our list below, we first pre-chill the bottles or cans in the fridge for a number of hours. Once the beers have reached their optimum temperature, we pour them into a standard pint glass. The first things we look for after pouring are the lager’s colour, opacity, aroma and the size and consistency of the foam head. Once poured and settled, we taste the lagers, noting down the initial flavour profile, level of effervescence and general drinkability.
The best lagers to buy in 2023
1. Pilsner Urquell: Best traditional pilsner
Price when reviewed: £7.25 (6pk) | Check price at Waitrose
While many beers and breweries have long histories and prestigious places in their nation’s cultures, few can match up to Pilsner Urquell. First brewed in 1842 in the Czech city of Plzeň, Pilsner Urquell invented the pilsner style, making Czechia the founding home of what would go on to be one of the most popular and well-loved styles of lager ever brewed.
Drinking Pilsner Urquell, you can see why the style caught on, and why the recipe and brewing methods have remained largely unchanged since its invention. Bright and golden in body, with a thick, creamy head when poured, Pilsner Urquell has a floral, hoppy aroma and a crisp taste, balancing its biscuit-y malt flavours with a kick of dry, citrus bitterness from the Czech Saaz hops it’s brewed with.
Key details – Volume: 6 x 330ml; Style: Czech Pilsner; ABV: 4.4%
2. Augustiner Helles: Best German helles lager
Price when reviewed: £40 (12pk) | Check price at Beer HunterNo respectable Best Lager list would be complete without Augustiner Helles, with this German lager consistently being rated as one of the best in the world by everyday drinkers and beer connoisseurs alike. Boasting a storied history dating back to the 14th century monks who originally brewed it, this traditional helles lager is made according to Germany’s strict regulations, using only high quality Bavarian hops and malt in its production.
Augustiner Helles has a pale, straw colouring and a light, fluffy head when poured. Fine-fizzed and smooth on the palate, it has a distinct malty flavour, owing to its long secondary fermentation process, which is balanced by its light but distinct hoppy finish. If you’re looking for something highly drinkable that isn’t overly mild or meek, Augustiner Helles is the lager for you.
Key details – Volume: 12 x 500ml; Style: Helles; ABV: 5.2%
3. Budweiser Budvar Tmavy Lezak Dark Lager: Best dark lager
Price when reviewed: £41 (20pk) | Check price at Beer HunterFirst off, let’s address a point of confusion that we come across fairly often. Budweiser Budvar is a European brewery, named for the Czech city of České Budějovice (Budweis in German) and its regional style of lager, similar to the city Plzeň and Pilsners. The brewery has long been in dispute with Anheuser-Busch, producers of American Lager Budweiser, over the legal rights to the name, but the companies are otherwise unrelated.
Alongside a very fine Czech pilsner, Budweiser Budvar also produces a tasty dark lager. The brand’s Tmavy Lezak brew is made with Saaz hops, Moravian malt and a blend of roasted barleys. The resulting dark lager pours brown-black, with medium off-white head. Budvar Tmavy Lezak has a strong, dry flavour, with deep notes of malt, bitter caramel, chocolate-coffee and a lightly spiced finish.
Key details – Volume: 500ml; Style: Dark lager; ABV: 4.7%
4. Asahi: Best dry lager
Price when reviewed: £26 (24pk) | Check price at MajesticThe most popular beer sold in Japan, Asahi Super Dry has quickly become a firm favourite in the UK since its relaunch in 2018. Brewed with rice and barley, in similar fashion to American lagers, Asahi has a light colouring and clean flavour, but with a sharper, more defined taste than its US counterparts. As its name would suggest, it also has an incredibly crisp, dry finish.
Said dry finish, along with the beer’s clean flavour and mild aftertaste, make it perfect for pairing with various kinds of food, which was one of the brewer’s main aims when it was originally developed. Having tried it in various settings, we can confirm that it fulfils this aim well, providing crispness and refreshment without overpowering the flavours of a given dish.
Key details – Volume: 24 x 330ml; Style: Japanese Rice Lager; ABV: 5.2%
5. Peroni Stile Capri: Best lager for hot, sunny days
Price when reviewed: £26 (24pk) | Check price at MajesticNamed in tribute to the sunny Italian island of Capri, Peroni’s latest offering represents a summery twist on its standard Nastro Azzurro lager. Infused with Mediterranean flavours, namely Italian lemon and olive leaf extract, it has a flavour profile that eschews bitterness. With a fairly low ABV of 4.2%, Peroni Stile Capri has its sights set on becoming the drink of choice for anyone reaching for a lager on a hot day.
To that end, we can call it a fairly solid success. Stile Capri has an inviting pale-straw colour and a medium white head when poured, with the initial sips tasting distinctly of sweet lemon. Otherwise, the beer has a fairly subtle, light lager taste, with a not unpleasant savoury finishing note, which can probably be ascribed to the olive leaf. Overall, the light, sweet flavours of this beer make it a good choice for anyone looking for an appropriately flavoured yet straightforwardly drinkable beer for warmer days.
Key details – Volume: 330ml; Style: Lager; ABV: 4.2%
6. Kaleidoscope Luminary Helles: Best British helles lager
Price when reviewed: £3.59 | Check price at Virgin WinesA British take on a German classic, this exclusive helles lager is the result of a collaboration between Virgin Wines and Newcastle’s Full Circle Brewing Company. A robustly flavoured and nicely strong helles beer, this lager has the classic malt-forward, yeasty flavour of a helles, along with a distinct, honied sweetness that gives it a character of its own. Low on bitterness, this lager is perfect for ale drinkers, fans of sweetness and those who find other lagers a tad too acrid and hoppy. If you enjoy this lager and fancy stocking up, you’ll be happy to know that it’s available in a fun, party-ready format, with a 5L keg version also on offer.
Key details – Volume: 440ml; Style: Helles; ABV: 5.0%
7. Krombacher Pils: Best German pilsner
Price when reviewed: £2.45 | Check price at OcadoWhile Czechia may be the home of the pilsner, Germany has become a dab hand at producing them over the years, crafting a style that has its own distinct character. One of the best examples of this is Krombacher Pils, the best-selling pilsner in Germany and a well-liked lager across Europe.
To pour, it has a medium golden colour, a fine fizz and a large, fluffy white head. Brewed with Hallertau hops and the region’s famed Felsquellwasser spring water, Krombacher has a soft, smooth mouthfeel and an enjoyable mineral quality to its flavour. Less floral and sweet than its Czech counterparts, this pilsner is front-loaded with strong, bready malt flavours and leaves a lingering, pleasant bitterness. At 4.8%, Krombacher is stronger than most pilsners, perfect for anyone looking for a smooth-drinking beer that is robust in both its flavour and its ABV.
Key details – Volume: 500ml; Style: Pilsner; ABV: 4.8%
8. Freestar: Best low-alcohol free-from lager
Price when reviewed: £24 (12pk) | Check price at AmazonAn ongoing revolution in brewing and beer drinking, low-alcohol and alcohol-free options have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, both in terms of quality and availability. A beer to satisfy just about all comers, Freestar lager is low-alcohol, gluten-free and vegan to boot. Skipping fermentation, as well as the dealcoholization process, Freestar is also able to boast decent environmental stats too, producing 50% less CO2 and 40% less waste, and using 75% less water and 60% less energy, compared to traditional methods.
Of course, all the above would be moot if the lager itself didn’t come up to scratch in the taste department. Thankfully, Freestar’s trio of European hops (Saaz, Perle and Hallertau, to be specific) give the lager a classic beer taste, with a nice mix of floral flavours, light bitterness and mild maltiness on the palate. While many low ABV lagers have strange or unpleasant aftertastes, Freestar has a clean finish which doesn’t linger.
Key details – Volume: 12 x 330ml; Style: Low Alcohol Lager; ABV: 0.5%
9. Birra Moretti Zero: Best 0.0% lager
Price when reviewed: £6 (4pk) | Check price at TescoMany people, for various reasons, feel more comfortable with a true 0.0% beer, even with most low-alcohol brews being equivalent to a glass of orange juice in terms of alcoholic content. At this stage, most of the big names have thrown their hat in the 0.0% ring, to varying degrees of success.
An alcohol free version of crisp, Italian-style lager, Birra Morretti, Moretti Zero is our favourite among them. Staying commendably close to the flavour of the original, this alcohol-free lager has an even balance of crispness, maltiness and hoppiness. Like many alcohol-free beers, it pours without much of a head, has a less robust body than its full-fat counterparts and is a tad on the sweet side. However, on the whole, Birra Moretti is a satisfying and worthwhile tipple for those abstaining.
Key details – Volume: 4 x 330ml; Style: Alcohol-free Lager; ABV: 0%
10. Salcombe Breeze: Best session lager
Price when reviewed: £24 (12pk) | Check price at Salcombe BreweryMore of a general descriptor than a style, the term session beer describes a drink that is, well, sessionable. This means that it’s low in ABV, refreshing and evenly flavoured, allowing you to knock back as many as you like without getting too tipsy, or sick of the taste. A great example of this ethos, Salcombe Brewery’s Breeze is a highly sessionable lager that seems to be tailor-made for drinking over the course of long, sunny, summer days.
Pale and lightly golden in appearance, with a medium, foamy head when poured, Breeze is an inviting looking lager with a moreish balance of flavours. Refreshingly effervescent to drink, the contrasting Jester and Boadicea hops used in its production give the beer subtle hints of spice and mild fruitiness that pair well with its sparkling character. Thanks to these juxtaposing flavours, as well as Breeze’s clean aftertaste, each sip of this easy-drinking lager seems to beget another, and another, and another…
Key details – Volume: 12 x 330ml; Style: Session lager; ABV: 4.0%
11. BBNo 32: Best British pilsner
Price when reviewed: £12 (4pk) | Check price at Brew by NumbersLondon-based craft brewer BBNo, or Brew by Numbers, has spent the last decade climbing the rungs of the craft beer world, becoming a well-known name thanks to its scientific approach, inventive creations and lively in-person taprooms. A fine example of what the brand has to offer, the 32 Pilsner is a highly drinkable take on the German style.
Light straw in colour, with a respectable, solid foamy head when poured, this pilsner is lean but sharp, with the initial brightness of its crisp, dry carbonation and light malt sweetness finished by a decent kick and lingering aftertaste of flavoursome hops. Overall, this lager’s sessionable ABV, light body and bright flavours make for an easy-drinking and moreish variation on a classic.
Key details – Volume: 4 x 440ml; Style: Pilsner; ABV: 4.0%